Last week, I published KATOH’s 2018 top-100 list. It was the fourth such preseason list to appear at FanGraphs. Unfortunately, it will also be the last.
I am embarking on a new opportunity in the baseball industry that prohibits me from working in the public sphere, which means no more KATOH. As much as I’d love to brag about how awesome this opportunity is, unfortunately that is all I can say about it.
Writing for FanGraphs was something I aspired to do since I stumbled upon the site as a teenager nearly a decade ago. I’ll be forever grateful to Dave Cameron and David Appelman, who hired me based on what was little more than an idea and stuck with me as I continually worked out the kinks. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Paul Swydan, who first brought me into the fold at the Hardball Times despite my undeveloped writing skills.
Read the rest of this entry »
Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel published their top-100 list on Monday. Other outlets have released similar lists, as well, recently — outlets including Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law, and MLB Pipeline. I submitted my own contribution yesterday with KATOH’s top-100 prospects. All of these lists attempt to accomplish the very same goal: both to identify and rank the best prospects. But KATOH goes about it in a very different way than the others. While most others rely heavily on scouting, KATOH focuses on statistical performance.
On the whole, there’s a good deal of agreement between KATOH and the more traditional rankings. Many of KATOH’s favorite prospects have also received praise from real-live human beings who’ve watched them play. Ronald Acuna, Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Brent Honeywell, Michael Kopech, and Kyle Tucker all fall within this group. In general, there is a lot of agreement. However, there are other KATOH favorites who’ve received little public consideration from prospect analysts. The purpose of this article is to give these prospects a little bit of attention.
For each position, I’ve identified the player, among those excluded from all top-100 lists, who’s best acquitted by KATOH. These players have performed in the minors in a way that usually portends big-league success. Yet, for one reason or another, each has been overlooked by prospect evaluators.
Of course, the fact that these players missed every top-100 list suggests that their physical tools are probably underwhelming. That’s very important information! Often times, the outlook for players like this is much worse than their minor-league stats would lead you to believe. There’s a reason people in the industry always say “don’t scout the stat line.” Although KATOH scouts the stat line in an intuitive fashion, it still overlooks important inputs that can predict big-league success.
Still, the stat-line darlngs sometimes pan out. I performed this exact same exercise last year, as well, and I’m proud to say there were some big successes. Rhys Hoskins, Jake Faria, Ben Gamel, Chad Green, and Brandon Nimmo have each blossomed into productive big leaguers just one year out. Zach Davies and Edwin Diaz also appeared in this space two years ago. Of course, others haven’t worked out so well. Clayton Blackburn, Dylan Cozens, Ramon Flores, and Garrett Stubbs: none of them were particularly useful major leaguers in 2017. There will be hits, and there will be misses, especially when you’re dealing with non-elite prospects.
C – Jake Rogers, Detroit (Profile)
Why KATOH Loves Him
Rogers hit a respectable .261/.350/.467 across two levels of A-ball last year, pairing an 11% walk rate with encouraging power. Most impressive of all, however, is that he did so as a catcher — a position where good hitters are few and far between. Rogers isn’t just any catcher, either: Clay Davenport’s defensive numbers graded him out as elite. Elite defensive catchers who can also hit a little are exceptionally valuable.
Why Scouts Don’t (J.J Cooper)
He has a big leg kick to start his swing, and takes a ferocious cut with a pull-heavy approach. When his swing works, he has the power to deposit pitches in the left-field bleachers. When it doesn’t, he rolls over ground outs or hits a number of harmless pop outs. Evaluators generally see Rogers as a below-average hitter with a lot of swings and misses and average bat speed.
Usually, KATOH’s catcher crushes are good hitters who are questionable behind the plate. Rogers is the exact opposite, as his offense is the questionable piece. Eric Longenhagen called him “best defensive catching prospect I’ve seen, a polished receiver and cat-like ball-blocker with a plus arm” over the summer. Even if Rogers’ A-ball numbers ultimately don’t translate, he could still be a solid regular given how little catchers hit. For example, Martin Maldonado defended his way to 1.1 WAR last year in spite of a 73 wRC+.
I have made a few updates this time around. KATOH now features:
Astute readers might notice that this article does not include a top-100 for KATOH+, the version of KATOH that incorporates scouting grades in addition to the stats. Since Kiley and Eric are still working their way through the organizational lists, I don’t have up-to-date FV grades for every prospect. Rather than plugging in FV grades from a year ago (or more), I am holding off on KATOH+ for now.
This year’s Rule 5 draft came and went yesterday, with 18 players selected in the major-league phase of the draft. All the players selected will need to spend the entire 2018 season on their new team’s active roster (or disabled list). Otherwise, they have to be offered back to their original team.
Since most of these players do not have any sort of prospect pedigree anyway, I utilized the stats-only version of KATOH. WAR figures represent projections for the first six years of a player’s major-league career. For a scouting companion to this post, read Eric Longenhagen’s analysis from earlier this afternoon.
Players listed in order of draft selection.
1. Detroit Tigers
Victor Reyes, OF, 1.9 WAR (from D-backs)
Reyes has long been a KATOH darling. Look no further than his player page to see the articles in which he has been tagged.
KATOH has always believed in Reyes’s blend of youth, contact, and speed — a skill set he carried into Double-A last year. Reyes showed everything except for power as 22-year-old in Double-A last year. Given his 6-foot-3 frame, I wouldn’t be surprised if more power eventually shows up.
The Yankees have acquired reigning National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins in exchange for Starlin Castro plus prospects Jorge Guzman and Jose Devers. A possible $30 million in cash would also be included in the event Stanton chooses not to opt out of his mega-contract following the 2020 season.
Below are the KATOH projections for the prospects received by Miami. WAR figures account for each player’s first six major-league seasons. KATOH denotes the stats-only version of the projection system, while KATOH+ denotes the methodology that includes a player’s prospect rankings. In total, my KATOH system projects these prospects for a combined 5.9 WAR (5.2 by KATOH+) over their first six years in the majors.
Jorge Guzman, RHP (Profile)
KATOH: 3.3 WAR
KATOH+: 3.2 WAR
Acquired from the Astros last winter in the Brian McCann trade, Guzman dominated the New York-Penn League in 2017. He struck out a league-leading 33% of opposing batters this past season and walked just 7%. The end result was a 2.30 ERA across 13 starts. At 21 years old, Guzman wasn’t particularly young for short-season ball — especially for an international signee — but his performance was off the charts. As a result, KATOH has him as a top-150 prospect. Guzman is obviously several levels away from the majors, but there is a lot to like.
At long last, the hot stove appears to be heating up. In something of a surprise move, the Mariners have swung a trade with the Marlins to acquire both (a) Dee Gordon, who will apparently play center field for Seattle, and (b) $1 million in international slot money. In exchange, the Marlins receive three lower-tier prospects: righties Robert Dugger and Nick Neidert, plus infielder Chris Torres.
Below are the KATOH projections for the players received by Miami. WAR figures account for each player’s first six major-league seasons. KATOH denotes the stats-only version of the projection system, while KATOH+ denotes the methodology that includes a player’s prospect rankings. In total, my KATOH system (both stats-only and KATOH+) projects this trio for 3.6 WAR over their first six years in the majors.
Nick Neidert, RHP (Profile)
KATOH: 2.2 WAR
KATOH+: 2.7 WAR
Seattle took Neidert in the second round out of high school back in 2015, and he promptly began mowing down low-minors hitters. Neidert opened 2017 as a 20-year-old in High-A, where he pitched excellently — his strikeout rate, walk rate, ERA, and xFIP were all top-five in the Cal League among pitchers with at least 80 innings pitched. Neidert’s performance cratered following a late-season promotion to Double-A, but his body of work is impressive. He rarely walks anyone and has shown an ability to miss bats against much older competition.
The deadline for teams to set their 40-man rosters in anticipation of the Rule 5 draft was Tuesday, November 21st. This means that all Rule 5-eligible players who aren’t currently on a 40-man roster will be available in the draft on December 14th at the Winter Meetings in Orlando. Here’s what makes a player Rule 5-eligible, according to MLB.com:
Players who were signed when they were 19 or older and have played in professional baseball for four years are eligible, as are players who were signed at 18 and have played for five years.
For the coming version of the Rule 5 draft, that’s generally any player drafted out of college in 2014 or earlier, drafted out of high school in 2013 or earlier, or signed as an international free agent in August 2013 or earlier. But that’s just a rule of thumb, and since very few things in life are simple, there are exceptions and loopholes.
Most of the players listed below aren’t good prospects. If they were, their teams would have protected them — or traded them to a team interested in stashing them. The baseball industry has effectively deemed each of these players to be a fringe prospect at best. Who cares about these mostly bad baseball players? Probably a very tiny sliver of the world’s population, if I’m being honest. But if you you’re still reading, I’m willing to bet you’re part of that small minority. And besides, several Rule 5 picks from recent memory have enjoyed immediate big-league success, including Joe Biagini, Matt Bowman, and Odubel Herrera.
Below, you’ll find a list of KATOH’s favorite Rule 5-eligible prospects, grouped by position. Due to the aforementioned loopholes, along with the fact that I checked each player’s eligibility manually, it is possible I omitted a noteworthy player along the way. All players with at least 200 professional plate appearances or batters faced in 2016 or 2017 were considered. Since most of these players do not have any sort of prospect pedigree anyway, I utilized the stats-only version of KATOH.
Every winter, hundreds of nondescript ballplayers become minor-league free agents. Players are granted minor-league free agency when they’re omitted from a club’s 40-man roster and have also spent at least six years in the minor leagues. In other words, they’re the ones who weren’t good enough to merit a call-up after several years in the minors, and their organizations suspect they lack the potential to be worthy of a 40-man spot.
Some of these players latch on with new organizations; some of them don’t. But regardless, the overwhelming majority never have much big-league success. Carson Cistulli found that only about 1% of minor-league free agents produce at least 0.5 WAR the following season. Minor-league free agents are the absolute bottom of the barrel when it comes to player transactions. But there’s an occasional gem at the bottom of that barrel. It’s not unheard of, at all, for a minor-league free agent to make a major-league impact. A few successful examples of players I highlighted in this space last year:
Using my KATOH projection system, I identified the pitchers from this year’s minor-league free-agent class who showed glimmers of promise in the minors. Since none of these players have any sort of prospect pedigree anyway, I utilized the stats-only version of KATOH. Based on their minor-league numbers, there’s reason to believe they might be able to help at the big-league level sometime soon. This analysis considers only players who logged at least 200 minor-league batters faced in either 2016 or 2017.
For reference, here is my piece from yesterday on minor-league free-agent hitters.
1. Scott Barlow, RHP
Barlow split time between the Dodgers’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates this past year, pitching to a stellar 3.29 ERA as a starter. He struck out 28% of opposing batters while walking a reasonable 10%. Barlow’s numbers were decidedly worse in his seven Triple-A appearances, but on the whole, his 2017 campaign was excellent for a 24-year-old starter.
Using my KATOH projection system, I identified the hitters from this year’s minor-league free-agent class who showed glimmers of promise in the minors. Since none of these players have any sort of prospect pedigree anyway, I utilized the stats-only version of KATOH. Based on their minor-league numbers, there’s reason to believe they might be able to help at the big-league level sometime soon. This analysis considers only players who logged at least 200 minor-league plate appearances in either 2016 or 2017. Tomorrow, I’ll repeat this exercise for pitchers.
1. Christian Lopes, 2B/3B
A seventh-round pick way back in 2011, Lopes has slowly but steadily worked his way through the Blue Jays organization, finally reaching Triple-A this past season. He hit a respectable .261/.349/.402 at the highest rung of the minor leagues while also showing speed on the bases. A 25-year-old infielder who can hit a little bit and run a little bit is about as compelling as minor-league free agents come.
Because most of the posts I publish at FanGraphs are based on my KATOH projection system, you might think my interests lie in stark contrast to the typical scout’s. My work is often presented against the backdrop of traditional prospect lists in an effort to identify players who may by underrated by the scouting consensus. However, I do attempt to see prospects in person from time to time in order to put faces and bodies to the stat lines I spend so much time analyzing.
As noted previously in these pages, my in-person looks are defined by one constraint — namely, my general reluctance to leave the five boroughs of New York. As such, I confine my interest in pro prospects to those players in the New York-Penn League (NYPL), seeing as many games over the summer as my schedule will permit.
What follows is specific sort of document, then, based on a combination of in-person looks, statistical performance, and geography. It is, in short, the pref list of someone who refused to stray far from New York City while compiling it. The mediocre scouting video is my own. KATOH numbers represent projected WAR over first six major-league seasons.